The Perils of Withdrawal

The Perils of Withdrawal
November 30th, 2005  

Topic: The Perils of Withdrawal

The Perils of Withdrawal
The Perils of Withdrawal
We're sticking with Afghanistan. Why would we ditch Iraq?

By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2005, at 3:07 PM ET

The situation is bad and possibly deteriorating. In spite of open elections with wide participation, and in spite of the promulgation of a federal-type constitution that controversially privileges Islam, attacks are on the increase and the number of American soldiers already killed in 2005 is almost double the number for last year. Suicide bombers, often recruited from beyond the borders but also generated internally, demonstrate increasing ruthlessness and sophistication. Kidnapping and hostage-taking suggest an overlap between jihadism and organized crime. Warlordism and sectarianism remain toxic. No obvious end is in sight. The situation in Afghanistan, in other words, is giving rise to mounting concern.

Not enough concern, however, to prompt many calls for a date for withdrawal from Kabul. Is anything to be learned from the difference here? Cindy Sheehan and her co-thinkers do, of course, call for an American retreat from Afghanistan, just as the hard core of the anti-war movement always opposed an intervention there in the first place, but if we take the "withdrawal" argument to have moved to the so-called mainstream since the confused, tear-stained, but stirring speech of Rep. John Murtha, then what are the chief distinctions between the two cases?

If, as Murtha says, the presence of American troops is the cause not the cure for Islamist "insurgency," then the logic would be the same in all cases: withdrawal at least to a more distant point where (presumably) their presence would not incite mayhem. Leaving aside the question of what geographical point that would be (U.S. ships were targeted in Yemen before 9/11 and in the Jordanian Gulf of Aqaba after it), this argument does have its attractions.

Then there is the question of the tainted origins of the commitment. In spite of furious opposition from the MoveOn left and the Lindbergh right, and endless talk about a "quagmire" from many liberals, most Americans did back the intervention in Afghanistan because of the self-evident link between al-Qaida and the Taliban. It was said even then that the attack would fail, because (remember?) if you killed Osama Bin Laden, then a thousand more would rise up to take his place. This line soon mutated into, "No war on Iraq: It's a distraction from the hunt for Bin Laden." What a good thing it is that the Bush administration didn't exaggerate by much, because if it had, millions of people would now be saying that they couldn't think of any reason of their own why the Taliban should have been removed.

The United Nations and the NATO powers conceded the United States the right of self-defense in the Afghan case, thus making it more "legitimate" and multilateral, and (presumably, therefore) turning its current difficulty into a crisis for legitimacy and multilateralism as well. But the coalition mission in Iraq is also now baptized by U.N. resolutions, and the elected Iraqi government seated at the United Nations, so the difference here is not very crucial.

The real difference is this, if one is permitted to mention such a coarse thing as interest: Iraq is enormously more important, geopolitically, than Afghanistan. It sits beside one of the choke-point sea lanes of the global economy, and it occupies a keystone position between the Wahhabist theocracy of Saudi Arabia and the Shiite theocracy of Iran. One may despair of the stupidity of the Bush administration's "drug war" in Afghanistan ("just hold still while we liberate you and burn your only crop and make sure that all profits go to gangsters"), but it is a bagatelle when compared to the gigantic stakes of Iraqi oil. If anything like a federal and democratic Iraq emerged and was able to recuperate its ravaged and corrupted oil fields, it could undercut the Saudi and Iranian duopoly as well as provide a modern standard of living to a people immiserated by three decades of war and fascism. This would be a prize of historic proportions.

There is some evidence that Murtha is wrong and that the Baathists and Bin Ladenists in Iraq are increasingly targeting civilian Iraqis—especially Kurds and Shiites—rather than those coalition forces who enjoy the benefits of "force protection." However that may be, both wings of the "insurgency" spend a lot of time trying to blow up the infrastructure of the Iraqi oil industry, and they have succeeded in diverting enormous resources away from reconstruction and toward simple protection of the pipelines and refineries. There are two motives for this apparently self-destructive irrationality. First, the terrorists aim to reduce Iraq to such a condition of chaos and beggary that even their rule—ŕ la Taliban—would seem preferable. (Stage 2 would be to spread this misery to adjoining states, as is already being rehearsed.) Second, they are well aware that the oil-bearing regions of the country are mainly concentrated in Shiite and Kurdish areas. Indeed, the whole rationale for an iron central dictatorship exerted by a minority of the Sunni—the Saddam family mafia—was based on precisely this selfish consideration. (This is also why Ahmad Chalabi, the current energy minister, is considering building a new pipeline to Turkey that would bypass the gangster-dominated areas.)

Thus the real question is this: Would a coalition withdrawal cause the other side to stop its sabotage of Iraq's chief source of income? This is not a small issue, and it does not just involve the rights and salaries of Iraqis. Saddam's partial destruction of the Kuwaiti fields in 1991, for example, was an ecological and economic disaster for the whole region, as well as for the world economy. Only very swift action by special forces in 2003 prevented him from blowing the wells again, this time in his "own" country. We are in Iraq partly for Iraqis' sake and partly for ours: There is an Iraqi interest in federal democracy and renewed membership of the post-sanctions economy (that would also benefit the Sunnis) and an international interest in an Iraq that is disarmed, that does not sponsor terrorists, and that does not menace neighboring states.

The perfect solution was hinted at by President Jalal Talabani on his last trip to Washington, several weeks before Rep. Murtha spoke up. He said he looked forward to the day when American troops could be withdrawn, and he said so plainly enough for the White House to issue a slightly nervous clarification about "deadlines." Iraq is not "occupied" by men like Talabani: He is a true son of the country and used to be a genuine insurgent at the head of an authentic peoples' army. It would be wonderful if an elected Iraqi government and parliament—which is thinkable after this December—took the decision to thank the coalition and to invite it to fold its tent and depart. But anyone who thinks that this would stop the madness of jihad need only look at Afghanistan, where a completely discredited and isolated minority continues to use suicide-murder as a tactic and a strategy. How strange that the anti-war left should have forgotten all of its Marxism and superciliously ignored the fact that oil is blood: lifeblood for Iraqis and others. Under Saddam it was wholly privatized; now it can become more like a common resource. But it will need to be protected against those who would shed it and spill it without compunction, and we might as well become used to the fact. With or without a direct Anglo-American garrison, there is an overwhelming humanitarian and international and civilizational interest in defeating the Arab Khmer Rouge that threatens Mesopotamia, and if we could achieve agreement on that single point, the other disagreements would soon disclose themselves as being of a much lesser order.

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Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is Thomas Jefferson: Author of America. His most recent collection of essays is titled Love, Poverty, and War
I like what Christopher Hitchens say here about the funny and silly nature of leftists in the war on terror.

December 1st, 2005  
But finally we do have one point made clear: it has been about the oil all along!
December 1st, 2005  
Originally Posted by Ted
But finally we do have one point made clear: it has been about the oil all along!
The Perils of Withdrawal
December 1st, 2005  
No Ted, it's about self-preservation. If you're foolish enough to believe that if American troops are withdrawn that the area will settle down and all will be hunky dory then you're self-delusional. As soon as the American troops are withdrawn, Iraq will be descended upon by neighboring Islamic thugs. The country have been surrendered to terrorists. These are not freedom fighters as they would have you believe. Most are not Iraqi. They are Islamic fundamentalists that are sworn to destroy everyone who is not. It will not be good enough to have a non-fundamentalist girlfriend either. No, I'm afraid this is not about oil. It's not that simple. The point that is quite clear is that this is about survival, mine and yours. Don't kid yourself.
December 1st, 2005  

Not so sure about that, I seriously doubt Osama or a Osama type would find Iraq to be a suitable place. First Iraq is divided into 3 ethnic groups Kurds, Shiite, and Sunni. Thay all hate each other. The Islamaic radicals like Osama tend to be Sunni and they are the minority in Iraq. Secondly unlike Afganistan the people in Iraq have a high degree of education whereas in Afganistan they had no education. This means that controlling the public would far more difficult. Another factor was that Iraq under Saddam was actually a freer place than say Saudi Arabia. I seriously doubt the public would be willing to accept a Islamic Autocrat that would teleport them back to the 12th Century.

Would most likely happen if the US pulled out would be a Civil War between the Sunni and Shiite and while that wouldnt be good for Iraq or the ME in general it would be better for those who life outside the ME. Iran might try a tip the scale toward the Shiites, but then again you can be sure Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others would back the Sunni.

I dont think we should withraw immediatly but I do think we need a exit plan. We need to leave, out presence in the area is only escalating things.
Unfortunatly the only plan the Bush Administration can seem to mumble is the same one that got us into this mess in the first place. As John McCain said "stay the course is not a plan".

About the Oil. I find it very hard to believe considering that Iraq has the 2nd largest oilfields in the world and since oil companies have been boasting record profits since the war began that oil wasnt at least in the equation. Patroitism and talking tough on terrorism is well and good but money talks in America. Oil may not be the reason of why we cannot leave, it was in the cards when this all started.
December 1st, 2005  
Ah mmarsh, the voice from the honorable opposition. What took you so long mon ami? Anyway, we all have heard the same criticism of anything the president says. However, we hear no alternate plans from the dissenting chorus. To announce that US troops are to be pulled out on a specific date before Iraq is ready is merely to surrender Iraq to the terrorists. All that would do is to give them carte blanche to increase their attacks on our troops just to claim that they defeated America and booted the Infidels out of Iraq. That would do a huge disservice to anyone who has fought for the freedom of the Iraqi people and to the Iraqis as well. It would most definitely be seen as a cowardly retreat. That is why "stay the course" is not such a bad plan after all. I don't pretend to speak for the President but, I am sure he agrees that our troops cannot stay there forever. He wants to make sure that Iraq can defend itself against what will almost certainly an tidal wave of attacks from those who already show a wonton disregard for the Iraqi people on a daily basis. I for one will never favor a course of action that dishonors our fighting men and women. I wonder if you can understand that?
December 1st, 2005  
Iraq seems to be pretty low on the oil producing totem pole. If it's not for oil, what are those wascally Americans up to? Could it be that they really are concerned about the war on terror?

Top World Oil Producers, 2004* Total Oil Production
(million barrels per day)

1) Saudi Arabia 10.37

2) Russia 9.27

3) United States 8.69

4) Iran 4.09

5) Mexico 3.83

6) China 3.62

7) Norway 3.18

8) Canada 3.14

9) Venezuela 2.86

10) United Arab Emirates 2.76

11) Kuwait 2.51

12) Nigeria 2.51

13) United Kingdom 2.08

13) Iraq 2.03

Top World Oil Net Exporters, 2004*
In millions of barrels per day.

1) Saudi Arabia 8.73

2) Russia 6.67

3) Norway 2.91

4) Iran 2.55

5) Venezuela 2.36

6) United Arab Emirates 2.33

7) Kuwait 2.20

8) Nigeria 2.19

9) Mexico 1.80

10) Algeria 1.68

11) Iraq 1.48

12) Libya 1.34

13) Kazakhstan 1.06

14) Qatar 1.02
December 1st, 2005  

What an Introduction! I'm flattered!

Naturally I dont mean we sit on our buttocks and do nothing as we wait for the countdown to reach 0. The Interim time should be used on one thing and one thing only. Training the Iraqi security Forces and NOTHING ELSE. Right now we have a hodge podge of different tactics such as creating democracy, focusing on the economy, focusing of infrastructure, focusing on security, etc. The problem is none of it works. My suggestion, forget democracy for the timebeing and just put somebody firm in charge (ie not Chalabi). Saddam stayed in power 30 years by strongarming the public, perhaps we need to do the same. As of right now there is only 1 Combat ready Battalion (the rest only exist on paper) in 3 years. Napoleon built his Grand Armee in less time. Thats got to change.

As for the dems, if you think about it they are making a very smart political move by saying nothing. Look how much trouble the GOP has gotten themselves into this year all by themselves. And to the GOP frustration they have no issue to attack the Dems on because the Dems are quiet. But my guess you might see a Democratic plan near election 2006.

I dont see withdrawing as a dishonor on the soldiers, on the politicians yes but Im not losing any sleep over it. The soldiers didnt start this war, the politicans did (like all wars), and like all wars it was the soldiers that got stuck cleaning up the mess.


You are mixing up oil production and oil capacity. The reason Iraq is at the bottom was that Saddams neglect, UN embargo, the Iraq invasion, and now Terrorist attacks have crippled the oil infrastructure for the last decade. Were the pumps and refineries to be repaired Iraq would be a oil goldmind. Remember Rummy saying Iraqi would pay for the invasion through its oil and the US taxpayer wouldnt spend a dime, that was proof that certain people had black gold on their mind.
December 1st, 2005  
Just so that everyone is on the same page, here is a link to the National Security Council's "National Strategy For Victory In Iraq"

It says, in part ;
"Victory in Iraq is Defined in Stages
• Short term, Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.
• Medium term, Iraq is in the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security, with a fully constitutional government in place, and on its way to achieving its economic potential.
• Longer term, Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism.

Victory in Iraq is a Vital U.S. Interest
• Iraq is the central front in the global war on terror. Failure in Iraq will embolden terrorists and expand their reach; success in Iraq will deal them a decisive and crippling blow.
• The fate of the greater Middle East – which will have a profound and lasting impact on American security – hangs in the balance.

Failure is Not an Option
• Iraq would become a safe haven from which terrorists could plan attacks against America, American interests abroad, and our allies.
• Middle East reformers would never again fully trust American assurances of support for democracy and human rights in the region – a historic opportunity lost.
• The resultant tribal and sectarian chaos would have major consequences for American security and interests in the region.

The Enemy Is Diffuse and Sophisticated
• The enemy is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists, and terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida. Distinct but integrated strategies are required to defeat each element.
• Each element shares a common short-term objective – to intimidate, terrorize, and tear down – but has separate and incompatible long-term goals.
• Exploiting these differences within the enemy is a key element of our strategy.

Our Strategy for Victory is Clear
• We will help the Iraqi people build a new Iraq with a constitutional, representative government that respects civil rights and has security forces sufficient to maintain domestic order and keep Iraq from
becoming a safe haven for terrorists. To achieve this end, we are pursuing an integrated strategy along three broad tracks, which together incorporate the efforts of the Iraqi government, the Coalition, cooperative countries in the region, the international community, and the United Nations."
December 1st, 2005  
Originally Posted by mmarsh


You are mixing up oil production and oil capacity. The reason Iraq is at the bottom was that Saddams neglect, UN embargo, the Iraq invasion, and now Terrorist attacks have crippled the oil infrastructure for the last decade. Were the pumps and refineries to be repaired Iraq would be a oil goldmind. Remember Rummy saying Iraqi would pay for the invasion through its oil and the US taxpayer wouldnt spend a dime, that was proof that certain people had black gold on their mind.
Here's capacity of the top 21 fields. Iraq has two fields which together have a total capacity of 36 billion barrels. That is literally a drop in the bucket. Mexico has about the same quantity.

Field, Country Size estimate

1. Ghawar, Saudi Arabia 75-83 billion barrels

2. Burgan, Kuwait 66-72 billion barrels

2a. Cantarell, Mexico
(often listed as a large complex
of multiple smaller fields) 35 billion barrels

3. Bolivar Coastal, Venezuela 30-32 billion barrels

4. Safaniya-Khafji, Saudi Arabia/Neutral Zone 30 billion barrels

5. Rumaila, Iraq 20 billion barrels

6. Tengiz, Kazakstan 15-26 billion barrels

7. Ahwaz, Iran 17 billion barrels

8. Kirkuk, Iraq 16 billion barrels

9. Marun, Iran 16 billion barrels

10. Gachsaran, Iran 15 billion barrels

11. Aghajari, Iran 14 billion barrels

12. Samotlor, West Siberia, Russia 14-16 billion barrels

13.Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, USA 13 billion barrels

13a. Kashagan, Kazakhstan 13 billion barrels

14. Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia 12 billion barrels

15. Romashkino, Volga-Ural, Russia 12-14 billion barrels

16. Chicontepec, Mexico 12 billion barrels

17. Berri, Saudi Arabia 12 billion barrels

18. Zakum, Abu Dhabi, UAE 12 billion barrels

19. Manifa, Saudi Arabia 11 billion barrels

20. Faroozan-Marjan, Saudi Arabia/Iran 10 billion barrels

21. Marlim, Campos, Brazil 10-14 billion barrels